Thousands of social media users across the Arab world have been sharing a photo they claim shows a French secret agent, apparently named Jean-Claude, who allegedly went undercover as a leader in the Islamic State (IS) group. But the man isn’t a spy. He isn’t even French. His name is Asim Hafiz, and he is an advisor to the British Army.
A tweet from Saudi Arabian user @SF_SKD claims that “officer Jean-Claude is back at work in France after finishing his mission as a sheikh of the Islamic State”, during which he “conceived the most dangerous and destructive plot (on an international scale) against the Sunnis, their towns, their provinces, their sacred beliefs…” The user also alleges that many members of the IS group “returned to their jobs in Iran”.
The text was copied and pasted by several other users on social media and treated as fact in an article published on March 7 by the Yemeni news site Aden News.
A look at the comments below the tweet shows, however, why the statement isn’t true.
“That’s a British officer,” one Twitter user commented. “And here’s the link to the British Armed Forces Muslim Association. There’s no Jean-Claude and there’s no connection to the French intelligence services.”
The Armed Forces Muslim Association provides support for Muslims in all branches of the British army, and its website prominently features the photo used in the misleading tweets. The man in the centre of the photo is neither French nor named Jean-Claude. He is in fact one Asim Hafiz, who has served as imam to the British Armed Forces since 2005 and is the Islamic advisor to the chief of the Defence staff.
In the photo, Hafiz is seen laughing alongside two British soldiers. The Union Jack is visible on the left upper arm of the uniform of the woman on his right, another indication that these are members of the British, not French, army. Hafiz has frequently been profiled by various news outlets, including The Times and Arab News.
Other hints that the original tweet contains falsehoods include the claim that members of the IS group returned to their jobs in Iran. The IS group practices a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam, while Iran’s population is predominantly Shiite. The use of terms like “plot” and “on an international scale” should also be taken with caution.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team has reached out to the Armed Forces Muslim Association for confirmation of when and where the photo was taken, and will update the story if and when they respond.